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The Utah Gumshoe: How to Make Your Surveillance Results More Predictable

The Utah Gumshoe: How to Make Your Surveillance Results More Predictable

Listen: How to Make Your Surveillance Results More Predictable

About 28 years ago, in 1986, Janet Jackson released a song called “What have you done for me lately?” The song is about a relationship between a man and a woman. The man points out I’ve done this for you and I’ve done that for you. The woman simply says, “Yes, but what have you done for me lately?”

You’re probably wondering what a Janet Jackson song has to do with surveillance. I’m here to tell you it has everything to do with surveillance. Surveillance – claims surveillance in particular, is a very competitive specialty. It is not enough to tell a claims adjuster, “Well, I was really successful on that case a year ago and that other one last month.” Like Janet Jackson, it’s all about “What have you done for me lately?”

As I crunched the numbers I found an astounding statistic. Each year I was able to gather video on about 97% of all the surveillance I had conducted. In speaking with my peers I found that this was higher than average. Which led me to the inevitable question of “how.” How was I able to do this? What was I doing different? And that’s when I discovered Charles Duhigg.

As private investigators we have to do everything we can to consistently deliver the same uniform product – the same surveillance results. And this can be difficult because, surveillance itself is unpredictable. When performance is measured, performance improves. So to that end, I began compiling statistics in my business several years ago. And, as I crunched the numbers I found an astounding statistic…

Each year I was able to gather video on about 97% of all the surveillance I had conducted. That seemed pretty high to me, so I wanted to know how it compared with other surveillance investigators. So I talked to some other pi’s (including pi’s from different states) and I found that, on average, they were able to gather video in about 75% to 90% of the surveillance they conducted (this was by no means a scientific study).

This led me to the inevitable question of “How.” How was I able to do this? How was I getting that 97%? What was I doing differently? And that’s when I discovered Charles Duhigg…

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter with the New York Times. He wrote a 2012 book titled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. His book delves into the science of habit formation. And he reported on a couple of studies that found that about 45% of our decisions each day, are based on habit. “They’re not really decisions,” Duhigg says. “It’s a decision we made at some point, but then stopped making and continued acting on.” It became a habit. The remaining 55% of our decisions are just that – strictly conscious decision making on our part.

For example, men usually begin shaving on the same side of their face every morning out of habit. Women put the same leg first, in a pair of pants, as they get dressed. We’re all creatures of habit.

As I read the book I did some research and discovered that the studies Duhigg referred to, were conducted by a Dr. Wendy Wood. Dr. Wood is a social psychologist and a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California.

So let’s go back to my original question. What does this all have to do with surveillance? Well, if 45% of our decisions are actually habits – can we perhaps extrapolate that to surveillance? Can we use that statistic to our advantage? Knowing this information, can you and I learn to recognize patterns and routines among our subjects…with the express purpose of delivering a more predictable surveillance product to our customers?

When I discovered I was gathering video on 97% of the surveillance I attempted…I began to look at specific things I was doing (and things that I could do) to help me recognize these patterns and routines…and make my surveillance product more predictable. I came up with a comprehensive methodology…that included several specific items.

Now, there’s more than 5…however in the interest of time, I’ll just go over 5 today.

1. Comprehensive Intake Form

This is not just any intake form, it’s a several page, all-encompassing form that goes above and beyond the industry standard. Claims adjusters are very busy. They’re handling 100 to 150 or more cases at any given time. They’re not always willing to fill the intake form out completely (and other times they simply don’t have all the information)

My intake form goes over wide-ranging information, such as Hair style, facial hair, height, weight, tattoos, scars, race, sex, vehicles, hobbies, involvement in sports, spouse, number and ages of children, full-time and part-time employment, light duty schedules, relatives, regular routines, and the list goes on and on. I use this information to build what I call a Whole-Person Concept which helps me get into the mind of the subject and, therefore, allows me to be more successful with surveillance.

As you know, just identifying the subject sometimes, can be a challenge. Sometimes not. I once had a surveillance where the subject was 4 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds. As you can see, having the proper information can make all the difference.

2. Pre-Surveillance Drive-By

A pre-surveillance drive-by is a check of the subject’s residence during daylight hours. Typically, it’s conducted the day before a regularly scheduled surveillance. Now, some folks have said that the information you can learn on a drive-by…can be found on Google Earth, Zillow and other websites. And it’s true, you can find a lot of information online. But you don’t always get the full picture.

For example, last month I conducted a surveillance in Colorado, and when I did my pre-surveillance check I found that the house was actually 3 houses down from where Google Maps said it was.

With a pre-surveillance check you can get a good look at the subject’s residence during daylight hours, check out vehicles, find out if they park in the street, the driveway or the back, find likely avenues of departure, houses for sale, abandoned homes, trees and shrubs (for shade in the summer – as well as concealment), nosey neighbors, community mail boxes, one-way streets, and again…the list goes on and on. You can also scout out a couple of potential areas where you’ll set up your surveillance vehicle the following day.

The down side is, other than domestic clients, most clients are usually unwilling to pay that extra hour for a pre-surveillance check. I do them anyway because it adds to my overall success.

3. Social Media Search

With my methodology we look at 25 specific social media websites and it’s been a real plus for finding out information about the subject before a surveillance even begins. I had a case a few years ago where the subject had a right hand injury. Through her Facebook page I learned that she loved to bowl and was even on a bowling league. Of course, I found out where and when the league was playing…and with my covert camera I was able to gather video of her using her “so-called injured hand” (bowling was definitely outside the scope of her alleged injury)

With social media you can read your subject’s blogs, find out about upcoming activities, events, plans, bars and restaurants the normally attend, view and print photos and learn about their interests. This really adds to understanding the subject’s patterns and routines.

Before I go on to #4, I want to tell you about another book I read. It’s a book by Malcom Gladwell. Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, a staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine, and in 2005 was named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 most influential people. He’s the author of several best sellers including Blink, The Tipping Point, David and Goliath, and his 2008, #1 bestseller The Outliers: The Story of Success.

In his book the Outliers, Gladwell talks about why certain people (such as the Beatles and Bill Gates) have been successful. He brings up what is called the 10,000 Hour Rule. The 10,000 Hour Rule is a theory first postulated by Swedish psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. What this theory states is very simple. It says that, on average, it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. (Obviously, there are always exceptions and not everyone agrees with this theory)

In the book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the Beatles. In 1960, after just having formed the band in Liverpool, England…they traveled to Hamburg, Germany to play in local bars and nightclubs. No one knew who they were. They didn’t get paid very well and their audiences were less than appreciative. And frankly, they really weren’t all that good back then. So what did they get out of the experience in Hamburg? Experience.

They ended up playing 8 to 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. And they got better. Flash forward to February 7, 1964, the day the Beatles touched down at JFK Airport…by then, they had already played together in over 1,200 concerts together and had thousands of hours of experience. They were newest thing, according to Ed Sullivan when he introduced them on his show. But not really. They had all that experience in Germany already. They would go on to become one of the most influential rock bands ever, which brings me us to #4…

4. Experience

There’s simply no substitute for experience. Especially in surveillance. There are certain nuances and aspects of surveillance that can only be learned by doing. By making mistakes. By losing people. By getting burned. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs 10,000 hours to be proficient – what I am saying is that the more experience you have the better you become. Just make sure that when you do make mistakes you evaluate what happened, learn something from it, and decide how you’ll do it differently the next time. And finally,

5. Patterns and Routines

As a surveillance investigator you should be learning something new, every day, about your subject. You should be looking for (and recognizing) habits in your subject, that translate into predictable patterns and routines. This is where surveillance results can really come together. I speak of such things as taking the kids to school, picking the kids up from school, taking the spouse to work, rolling trash cans to the curb, shoveling snow from the drive way and sidewalk, walking to the mail box, taking a lunch break at work, etc. All of these things are usually the 45% of the subject’s decisions that are based on habits. They create a framework, around which you can conduct surveillance on an active subject.

With 45% of your subject’s decisions each day based on habit…and these 5 tips, you can begin to recognize patterns and routines with your subject and deliver a more predictable surveillance product to your customers. Remember: successful surveillance begins before you even get behind the wheel of your surveillance vehicle.

Until next time,

this is Scott Fulmer, the Utah Gumshoe reminding you the game…is afoot!

About The Utah Gumshoe Podcast

Scott B. Fulmer The Utah Gumshoe

The Utah Gumshoe Podcast follows the real-life exploits, riveting case stories, investigative tips and insightful advice of Scott Fulmer, The Utah Gumshoe. Scott is a 20 year veteran Utah private investigator, surveillance expert and President/CEO of intellUTAH, a private investigation firm based in Salt Lake City.

He has written numerous articles on investigative and surveillance techniques that have appeared in and other industry journals. He is a decorated combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War where he served with the famous 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels). Whether you're a novice or an experienced investigator this is the podcast for you.

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